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Christmas Stockings Cheer Soldiers on the Way to War

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 26, 2005 – It was 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and it was raining at an air base in Kuwait. The "moon dust" that overlays everything in the country was now a gooey mire that stuck to everything. Contrary to popular belief, it does get cold in the Middle East, and it was wet and cold.

About 60 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division waited in a tent for a flight to Baghdad. They had been there a while, as previously scheduled flights were diverted or cancelled.

They sat or stretched out on aluminum Army cots, and slept or talked or read. Some were seasoned noncommissioned officers who had been with the division in 1991's Gulf War. Others had made the run "from the berm to Baghdad" in 2003.

But many other soldiers were just out of the advanced individual training that followed their basic training. It wasn't so long ago that they believed in Santa Claus themselves, one NCO observed, and now they were spending Christmas Eve getting ready to go to a war zone.

Finally, everyone boarded a bus to drive to the Air Force C-130 Hercules transport that would take us to Baghdad. On the way to the aircraft, the radio crackled, "Merry Christmas, everyone." It had just struck midnight.

As the bus approached the aircraft, the soldiers could see a flash of color on the open ramp. Some of the C-130's crewmembers had Santa hats on and were crouched next to a box. As the soldiers approached the aircraft from the bus, the crew hauled out Christmas stockings and passed them out.

The soldiers, who had been silent, livened up and joked a bit. "I must have been a better boy than I thought," said one soldier as he examined the stocking. "Isn't this so nice?" said a young sergeant as she opened a packet of chocolate chip cookies. "This is a bit of home."

Amid the chocolate and cookies were a couple of nontraditional stocking stuffers: foot powder, wet-naps, waterless soap and the like. Soldiers began trading the goodies back and forth, and laughter -- which had been noticeably absent -- filled the aircraft, at least until the engines started up.

Where did the stockings come from? "Don't know," said the C-130's crew chief. "They showed up at the ramp and people asked us to pass them out."

"Some guy in a sled dropped them off," said another Air Force NCO.

It may well have been Santa, but a short note in each stocking indicated the jolly elf has a branch workshop in the United States. "Happy holidays!" the note read. "Please know that there are so many people back home that appreciate your service to our country and the daily sacrifices you make while being deployed. Love, A Few Virginians."

The small, heartfelt gesture made all the difference for the soldiers. Many of them were spending their first Christmas away from their families and friends - and all of them were on their way to war.

"I wish I knew who to thank for this," said a young private. "We don't know what we're heading into, but we know that people care."

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